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Is Fairtrade Coffee Really Fairly Traded Coffee?

This is a discussion on Is Fairtrade Coffee Really Fairly Traded Coffee? within the Coffee Industry Forum forums, part of the Coffee Industry category; While putting my coffee on a retailer's shelf the other day I picked up some of my competitor's bags to compare with mine. And when ...

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    Is Fairtrade Coffee Really Fairly Traded Coffee?

    While putting my coffee on a retailer's shelf the other day I picked up some of my competitor's bags to compare with mine. And when I say 'competitor' let me be clear that they are the elephants and, wishful thinking, I'm the flea. They spill more coffe in a couple hours than I roast in a year.

    Anyway, now there is barely any room on their bags for information about the coffee or brewing instructions because there are so many logos-- Fairtrade, Rain Forest Alliance, UTZ, FSC, Soil Conservation (in U.K.), Organic this and that, etc., etc.

    Living a past life as the direct marketing manager for a Fortune 500 company my antannae began to transmit the words Flim-Flam into my tiny little brain. Then I started doing a lot of research about all these third-party certifiers. And, while these folks have done quite a bit of good in the past, it now looks like, more and more, they are becoming check boxes to tick for big corporate roasters. The marketing department at Big Coffee Corp. says people will pay more for Fairtrade or USDA Organic so we've got to slap that logo on the coffee.

    Since, in my experience, big corporations generally have an "it's all about me" attitude and most of their "giving back" is marketing window dressing, the cynical side of me is really starting to wonder about what exactly Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, et al, are really all about. And I think it is m-o-n-e-y! D'oh!

    I ranted about this on my website -- davenport coffee dot com -- on the Coffee with Conscience page, but am interested in your take on this. Am I being too cynical or has big business co-opted these once noble minded causes for their own profit purposes?

    By the way, I created a Coffee With Conscience logo that means whether my coffee is Fairtrade or Utz or whatever certified or not, I've done my homework to ensure that the farmer got a fair price and didn't get shafted by the co-op he takes his coffee too, or shafted by Unilever, Sara Lee, Royal Ahold or some other food behemoth. If you'd like to use it I give it freely, just use it with conscience. You can write info at davenportcoffee dot com and ask for the file.

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    Dan
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    something to read

    Well... there are many sides to the truth but here's an interesting article I once translated into Hebrew for the Israeli Coffee Association:
    Lawrence Solomon: Fair-trade coffee producers often end up poorer | FP Comment | Financial Post

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    Great topic, imo.

    As a person with a degree in marketing management and years of sales experience, I agree with your assessment above for the most part.

    However...... We also suspected there was a (growing) niche in the local market which wasn't being serviced by any of the local roasters. And after talking with a couple of local individuals inside the industry, found out that there was a demand for certified organic coffee that wasn't being met. That led to more marketing research and the discovery of some surprising numbers and stats concerning national trends, specifically in the specialty coffee market. To be honest, the most difficult and time consuming aspect of getting this small business venture off the ground has been jumping through the USDA's organic certification hoops. However, receiving those "bona fides" has opened some doors to health food stores, co-ops and farmer's markets that other local roasters haven't been able to penetrate.

    Once we decided to offer strictly organically certified products, I noticed that many organic offerings from the importers were also fair trade. A bit more research led me to the belief that the fair trade aspect was perhaps a little gimmicky in practice while being noble in theory, imo. However, after contacting the fair trade association I learned it was very easy to get registered as a fair trade supplier and free to any roaster burning less than 20,000 lbs of beans annually. After a bit more local research, it turns out there is a growing awareness amongst local consumers concerning the fair trade concept as well.

    Last but not least, is our kosher certification. A cousin who hauls kosher products around the country in a big rig brought up this topic awhile back while discussing the organic cert. process/hassles by phone. So I contacted a local rabbi who provided kosher certification to industries and businesses. Turns out he is in the process of opening up a coffee shop attached to the deli he runs. Needless to say the good rabbi was excited beyond belief to have the opportunity to procure kosher coffee beans for his shop. He has even offered the opportunity to trade a bit of coffee for the certification......

    So as you can tell, we've jumped on the certification ban wagon you detail above. hehe

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    Dan, that's a very interesting article. The author certainly speaks from a position of authority. Worth a read for anyone who is interested in the subject. It is up to all of us to make sure that whatever coffee we are selling, that it is fairly traded regardless of all the "perception is reality" branding that goes on around coffee.

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    Who benefits the most from Fair trade? The farmer?
    Direct Trade seems to be a better deal to me. It puts more $ in the farmers hands then your average Fair Trade transaction. Plus you actually meet the farmer, see their community, and understand their needs.
    I know its not feasible for everyone to travel to origin for all their coffee....but it would be cool if we could!

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    Right on. Direct trade is one of our goals.

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    well , i'm not sure if its fairly trader like said but they usually can't stamp anything on the label unless its true, may i ask what type of coffee company are your running

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    A Roastery in Colorado. Sorry, was that ? for me?

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    Quote Originally Posted by businessdegree View Post
    well , i'm not sure if its fairly trader like said but they usually can't stamp anything on the label unless its true, may i ask what type of coffee company are your running
    And I don't run it, just roast coffee my friend.

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    Replying to BusinessDegree's comment that "they usually can't stamp anything on the label unless its true" I've got to take issue.

    I used to be a happy-go-lucky human with a gooey soft center (now covered with a skeptical outer layer). Then the lovely and talented Roast Mistress, about 25 years ago, got me reading labels. My have they changed! Three ingredients have jumped to 30, and half of them are "natural". I've come to raise my eyebrow at most claims.

    Companies will lie if they can get away with it, equivocate when they are caught, and use doublespeak to confound and confuse -- regardless of what is printed on the label. The last thing I would expect from any large multi-national company, besides self-dealing, is the truth . . . unless, of course, that was in their best interests.

    A long time ago, evidently in a galaxy far, far away, we used to know with certainty what words like natural and organic meant. Not any more. Those days are long gone.

    You've got to do your research. And the more you do the more you are amazed at how much outright deception and subtle misdirection are going on out there in the hallowed halls of commerce. It is called greed and I don't think the coffee labeling process has escaped its taint.
    Last edited by expat; 07-06-2012 at 08:51 AM.
    Wrinkles only go where the smiles have been -- Jimmy Buffett (via Mark Twain)

 

 
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